Among the many public occasions celebrated in the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is perhaps one of the most commercialised—just behind actual holidays like Christmas and New Year. As soon as the first of February hits, signs of the ‘love month’ can be found everywhere— from heart-shaped decorations, to cut-out cupids, to red roses and chocolates, to love songs. It’s no wonder brands choose to capitalise on this occasion by releasing romance-themed advertisements.

Valentine’s Day in the Philippines, to say the least, is unavoidable for some. However, for others, the thought of the 14th of February is mentally unbearable.

According to West Australian psychology researcher Asst. Prof Peter McEvoy, Valentine’s Day can trigger severe anxiety in certain people—especially those with mental health disorders like social anxiety disorder (SAD) or social phobia.

As such, MIMS spoke with two National Advisers for Youth for Mental Health Coalition: Academician and Clinical Psychologist Renz Argao, and the Philippine Leader for Livestrong Foundation Dr Gia Sison to discuss the potential implications of occasions like Valentine’s Day to sufferers of SAD.

Explaining social anxiety disorder

Argao defines SAD as “a disorder characterized by fear of social situations,” adding that most people with SAD avoid social situations because of fear focused on embarrassment, humiliation, and committing mistakes.

Symptoms of SAD include sweating, palpitations, trembling, nausea, or difficulty breathing of the patient while in social situations.

“[SAD] is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person's life. And it’s chronic because it does not go away on its own,” Dr Sison notes.

Both Argao and Dr Sison agreed that healthcare professionals—psychiatric or not—play a vital role in identifying people at risk of social anxiety disorder through the abovementioned symptoms, as well as giving these patients emotional support.

SAD in the age of social media

At a time when many human relationships form and thrive with the help of social media, sufferers of SAD can find comfort in connecting with people in just a few clicks or taps. However, platforms like social media, according to both Argao and Dr Sison, have both favourable and unfavourable consequences.

“Social media can be a way for people to start interacting in a safe environment, but social media use can also be a reason why they would avoid actual social situations,” warns Argao.

Dr Sison said another pitfall of turning to social media too much is the tendency to compare other people’s lives with the SAD sufferer’s own—which can trigger more depressing thoughts on them.

Dating apps can also serve as a tool to help SAD sufferers meet new people—but as with social media, usage should be in moderation and SAD sufferers should not depend on these apps alone.

According to The Mighty contributor and mental health advocate Chris Boutte, dating apps help in ways as it serves as 1) ice breaker to start up a conversation, and 2) it paves a way to ‘first dates’ before the actual first date.

“I believe getting to know each other online first can make getting to know them in person better because you can connect on a deeper level than most people would ever connect on a first date,” Boutte wrote. Boutte struggled with many mental health illnesses such as depression, addiction and social anxiety. MIMS

National Advisers for Youth for Mental Health Coalition, Renz Argao and Dr Gia Sison are spearheading an event this 15 February 2018--#WalwalSesh Live at Paperwork PH. They described it as “a night filled with conversations about love and life and everything your heart desires,” and will feature music, spoken word poetry, and an interactive session with Renz Argao and Dr. Gia Sison. Join #WalwalSesh for free. Register here:

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